Skip Navigation
Expert Brief

Voting Laws Roundup 2017

In 2017, changes to voting laws are again poised to play a major role in state legislative agendas.

Published: May 10, 2017
(Note: This updates the Roundup previ­ously published on March 27, 2017.)
 

At this point in the year, every state’s legis­lature is either in session or has completed its 2017 calen­dar. As has been the case all decade, legis­lat­ors across the coun­try are trying to reshape state voting laws. In several places, this means it will soon be harder to vote: Five states have already enacted bills to cut back on voting access, and one more is on the verge of doing so. By compar­ison, three states enacted voting restric­tions in 2015 and 2016 combined. Over­all, however, more bills to expand access to voting were intro­duced this year than bills that would restrict voting access. Still, of the legis­la­tion making the most substan­tial impact on voting access, more legis­la­tion to limit parti­cip­a­tion is advan­cing toward passage. Moreover, governors in Nebraska and Nevada have vetoed the bills that would expand access to the fran­chise.

Over­view of Legis­la­tion to Restrict Voting Access

Over­all, at least 99 bills to restrict access to regis­tra­tion and voting have been intro­duced in 31 statesThirty-five such bills saw signi­fic­ant legis­lat­ive action (mean­ing they have at least been approved at the commit­tee level or beyond) in 17 states.

 

Several states will soon imple­ment major new voting restric­tions

Five states have already enacted laws making it harder to register or vote, one more is on the verge of doing so, and more states could act later this year:

  • Iowa’s governor signed a broad-based law that will require voter ID, restrict voter regis­tra­tion efforts, and impose new burdens on Elec­tion Day regis­tra­tion and early and absentee voting. Although not as restrict­ive as a North Caro­lina law that passed in 2013 (and was blocked by a federal court), Iowa’s law simil­arly restricts voting in a number of differ­ent ways.  
  • Arkan­sas passed two bills to bring back voter ID to the state after a court struck down an earlier law.
  • North Dakota also enacted legis­la­tion to re-impose an iden­ti­fic­a­tion require­ment after a court blocked a strict ID law in 2016.
  • Indi­ana enacted a law that will imple­ment a purge of registered voters from the rolls. The program will remove voters in a manner similar to purges in other states that have been criti­cized for being error-prone and inad­equately protect­ive of eligible voters.  
  • Montana’s house and senate passed a bill that will prevent civic groups and indi­vidu­als from help­ing others vote absentee by collect­ing and deliv­er­ing their voted ballots. The bill now goes to voters as a Novem­ber 2018 ballot meas­ure.
  • Geor­gi­a’s legis­lature sent bill that would make voter regis­tra­tion more diffi­cult to the Governor, and he signed it on May 9.

Voter ID bills are still the most common form of voting restric­tion moving in state legis­latures

Since 2010, ten states have passed more burden­some voter ID require­ments. As in previ­ous years, voter ID is the most common type of legis­la­tion to restrict voting access this year. Over­all, 39 bills impos­ing harsher voter ID require­ments were intro­duced in 22 states. As noted above, three states — Arkan­sas, Iowa, and North Dakota have already enacted voter ID laws.

Legis­la­tion pending in other states poses risks to voting access. For example, Oklahoma’s Senate passed a bill that would add a voter ID require­ment to the state consti­tu­tion. The bill passed with a wide margin in the Senate, setting up a likely house vote. Mean­while, Texas’s senate has passed a voter ID bill, discussed in further detail below, that would put in place a voter ID provi­sion less voter-friendly than the current, court-ordered provi­sion.

Restric­tions on voter regis­tra­tion are a close second

After voter ID, making the voter regis­tra­tion process more burden­some is the most popu­lar subject of bills to cut back on voting access. Over­all, 33 bills to make the voter regis­tra­tion process more burden­some have been intro­duced in 22 states. Bills have at least been considered and approved by a legis­lat­ive commit­tee in Connecti­cut, Iowa, Kansas, Mary­land, New Hamp­shire, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia. Of these, New Hamp­shire’s has the most momentum: a bill to make regis­tra­tion more diffi­cult for students, suppor­ted by the Secret­ary of State, has passed the Senate.

The major­ity of states acting to restrict voting are legis­lat­ing on topics where courts previ­ously acted to protect voters

Most of the states that have already enacted or on the verge of enact­ing new voting restric­tions are passing legis­la­tion of the same subject on which courts have recently acted to protect voters from past voting restric­tions.

  • Arkan­sas has passed two harm­ful voter ID bills. One, which restores a stat­utory require­ment that voters show one of a limited set of ID, has been enacted. The other, which would amend the state consti­tu­tion to require voter ID, must be approved by the voters in the form of a ballot initi­at­ive before taking effect. A state court blocked a previ­ous ID law in 2014.
  • Geor­gia enacted a law impos­ing a require­ment that inform­a­tion on voter regis­tra­tion forms match exactly with other state records — a burden­some process known as “no match, no vote.” Only months earlier, the secret­ary of state agreed in a court settle­ment to stop a similar proced­ure that had preven­ted tens of thou­sands from regis­ter­ing.
  • Iowa enacted an omni­bus voting bill, described in further detail above, on May 5. The bill includes a require­ment that suspec­ted non-citizens be deleted from the voter rolls. Such removals programs, if conduc­ted without safe­guards to adequately ensure those being removed are actu­ally ineligible, can sweep in thou­sands of eligible voters, as has happened in Color­ado and Flor­ida. In 2014, a state court blocked former Secret­ary of State Matt Schultz from purging suspec­ted noncit­izens because he lacked author­ity to carry out the program in the manner he inten­ded.
  • North Dakota’s Governor signed a bill on April 25 that would restore a strict voter ID require­ment in the state. In 2016, a federal court partially blocked a previ­ous ID law that accep­ted a narrow range of iden­ti­fic­a­tion docu­ments and did not provide any mean­ing­ful voting oppor­tun­it­ies for voters without the accep­ted ID. The new bill slightly expands options to use for ID, but elim­in­ates the process the court imposed, which allows voters without IDs to cast a ballot that counts on Elec­tion Day, and instead included a more burden­some process.  One legis­lator argued that that the bill does not pass consti­tu­tional muster.
  • Texas’s legis­lature is consid­er­ing a voter ID bill that that is on the verge of being passed a house commit­tee has already approved the legis­la­tion and it has already passed the senate. The state attor­ney general has described the bill as a response to a court’s block­ing of the state’s previ­ous strict voter ID law. Crit­ics observe that the bill, if enacted, would put in place a voter id require­ment that is more strin­gent than the exist­ing court-ordered process.

Bills to restrict voter access approved by state legis­latures in 2017

Arkan­sas

Voter ID  (HB 1047) (passed and signed)

Voter ID (HJR 1016) (passed house and senate; signed by governor; must be approved as ballot meas­ure to become law)

Geor­gia

Voter regis­tra­tion (HB 268)  (passed and signed)

Indi­ana

Voter purge (SB 442) (passed and signed)

Iowa

Voter ID, restric­tions on voter regis­tra­tion drives, Elec­tion Day regis­tra­tion, absentee voting (HF 516) (passed house and senate). Also contains voter list main­ten­ance provi­sions that, if imple­men­ted improp­erly, could lead to voter purges.

Montana

Absentee ballot collec­tion (SB 352) (passed house and senate; must be approved as ballot meas­ure to become law)

North Dakota

Voter ID (HB 1369) (passed and signed)


 

Over­view of Legis­la­tion to Expand Voting Access

Over­all, at least 531 bills to enhance voting access have been intro­duced in 45 statesOne hundred fifty-six bills have at least been considered and approved by a legis­lat­ive commit­tee in 30 states. 

 

Fifteen state legis­latures have passed bills to expand access to voting, but Governors have vetoed the most impact­ful legis­la­tion

Eight states have enacted bills that will make voting and regis­tra­tion easier, seven states have not yet enacted legis­la­tion but have passed it through their state legis­latures, and more than a hundred bills to improve voting access have at least advanced through a commit­tee. The two bills that would make the biggest impact on voting access, however, have been vetoed.

  • Flor­ida, Kansas, New Jersey, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia enacted legis­la­tion that would make it easier to vote without show­ing up to the polls on Elec­tion Day.
    • New Jersey improved voting for milit­ary voters.
    • Utah expan­ded early and absentee voting oppor­tun­it­ies.
    • The other states upgraded their absentee voting proced­ures.  
  • Indi­ana improved its process for regis­ter­ing voters who visit the state drivers’ license offices.
  • Wyom­ing eased the process for restor­ing the right to vote for people with crim­inal convic­tions.
  • Idaho made its voter ID law slightly less burden­some.
  • The most signi­fic­ant reforms to pass, however, have been vetoed by Repub­lican governors.
    • Nevada’s assembly and senate passed legis­la­tion to estab­lish auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion, but Repub­lican Governor Brian Sandoval vetoed it. The legis­la­tion, an initi­at­ive peti­tion, now goes to the voters, who could approve it by directly voting on it in the Novem­ber 2018 general elec­tion.
    • Nebraska Governor Pete Rick­etts, also a Repub­lican, vetoed a bill that would have restored the right to vote to citizens with crim­inal convic­tions upon their release from incar­cer­a­tion. The veto came after Nebraska’s unicam­eral legis­lature (which is tech­nic­ally nonpar­tisan, but controlled by legis­lat­ors gener­ally iden­ti­fied as polit­ic­ally conser­vat­ive), passed the bill by a 27–13 margin. An attemp­ted veto over­ride failed, with the cham­ber split­ting 23–23 for over­ride.

Auto­matic regis­tra­tion and other reforms to modern­ize voter rolls are common forms of legis­la­tion to expand voting access

Auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion (AVR) remains a popu­lar pro-voter reform that is being intro­duced in legis­latures across the coun­try, build­ing on momentum from the last two years.  AVR is a new reform that lever­ages exist­ing tech­no­logy to help get voters registered. It also changes our system from one in which voters must affirm­at­ively register to vote to one in which they are registered unless they “opt out.” In 2015 and 2016, six states passed or imple­men­ted AVR.

  • This year, AVR became law in the District of Columbia.
  • A bill in Illinois, which nearly enacted the reform last year, just passed the Senate by a 48–0 vote. The bill is similar to legis­la­tion intro­duced and suppor­ted by both Demo­crats and Repub­lic­ans in the last legis­lat­ive session, and there is a strong possib­il­ity the bill will pass.
  • Nevada passed an auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion bill through both legis­lat­ive cham­bers, but it was vetoed by the governor. It will be on the ballot in 2018 for the voters to decide.
  • Utah’s House also passed an auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion bill, but it died in the Senate.
  • Color­ado, Connecti­cut, and Geor­gia are moving forward to imple­ment auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion admin­is­trat­ively.
  • Over­all, at least 86 bills to imple­ment or expand AVR have been intro­duced in at least 32 states.
  • Legis­la­tion has at least been approved by a legis­lat­ive commit­tee  in Arkan­sas, Connecti­cut, Hawaii, Illinois, Mary­land, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Wash­ing­ton, and efforts to intro­duce and pass legis­la­tion have also received media atten­tion in Maine and Mary­land.

Legis­la­tion to expand early and absentee voting is popu­lar

In addi­tion to the six states that have already enacted legis­la­tion to make early, absentee, and milit­ary voting easier, seven states have at least moved early voting legis­la­tion through a commit­tee, and nine­teen states have done the same with absentee voting legis­la­tion. Over­all, 166 bills to improve early voting or absentee voting access have been intro­duced in 35 states.

Legis­la­tion restor­ing the right to vote to people with past convic­tions is also common

As described above, Nebraska and Wyom­ing’s legis­latures approved bills to help restore the right to vote to people with past crim­inal convic­tions. Nebraska’s bill was vetoed.

  • Nevada’s Senate passed a bill that would improve the rights restor­a­tion process in the state, and a bill is also moving in the House. Nevada’s Governor has opposed past efforts to restore the right to vote.
  • In Virginia, differ­ent versions of a bill that would improve voting access for certain persons with crim­inal convic­tions passed in the house and senate, but neither was enacted.
  • Over­all, 55 bills to help restore the right to vote to persons with past crim­inal convic­tions have been intro­duced in 18 states, and bills have at least been approved by a commit­tee in 17 states

Bills to enhance voter access approved by state legis­latures 2017:

Flor­ida

Absentee voting (H 105) (passed and signed)

Idaho

Voter ID (HB 149) (passed and signed ) 

Indi­ana

Elec­tronic voter regis­tra­tion (HB 1178) (passed and signed)

Kansas

Absentee voting (HB 2158) (passed and signed)

Mary­land

Voter regis­tra­tion (HB 1626) (passed house and senate)

Montana

Absentee voting (HB 287) (passed house and senate)

Nebraska

Voting rights restor­a­tion (LB 75) (passed unicam­eral legis­lature; vetoed by governor)

Nevada

Auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion (IP 1) (passed house and senate; vetoed by governor)

New Jersey

Milit­ary voting (SB 92) (passed and signed)

New Mexico

Disab­il­ity access (HB 98) (passed house and senate)

Oklahoma

Early voting (SB 347) (passed house and senate)

Tennessee

Absentee (SB 286) (passed and signed)

Utah

Voter list main­ten­ance (HB 86) (passed and signed)

Early voting (HB 105) (passed and signed)

Absentee voting (HB 230) (passed house and senate)

Minimum stand­ards for polling places (SB 116) (passed house and senate)

Virginia

Absentee voting (HB 1912) (passed house and senate)

Wyom­ing

Voting rights restor­a­tion (HB 75) (passed and signed)